I don’t know about you, but when I think about improving warehouse productivity through automation, the images that spring to mind are either of automated management processes which improve workforce productivity, or of fully automated high-bay warehouses with cranes, conveyors and robots operating on a lights-out basis.
However, over the last decade, Carlsberg, one of the world’s largest brewing companies, improved warehouse productivity and efficiency at its production and storage facility in Falkenberg, Sweden, by phasing in fully automated full-pallet processes alongside manual picking and consolidation of mixed and part-pallet orders.
Furthermore, the change took place with little downtime or disruption to the production or warehousing operations.
How Did They Do it?
The Falkenberg operation is proof positive that a logistics company can achieve improved warehouse productivity with full automation without making massive changes to existing warehouses or moving to new purpose-designed properties. Carlsberg achieved its transformation with the use of laser guided fork trucks—22 of them to be precise.
The electric trucks need no rails to guide them. Instead they use a laser system to navigate freely through the warehouse at very low speeds and with precise navigation down to the last millimetre. Connected to a sophisticated warehouse management system, the trucks are active 24/7, collectively moving up to 500 pallets per hour.
Due to the advanced technology involved, the laser guided vehicles (LGVs) were able to be implemented in phases. This meant that over a period of time, larger areas of the warehouse could be switched to an automated environment, with little disruption to the day-to-day running of the facility.
What Can The Trucks Do?
Although they look little different to conventional electric warehouse FLTs, the LGVs at Carlsberg are highly sophisticated. Not only are they able to operate without a driver, they can even change their own batteries.
When one of the trucks senses a depleted battery, it travels to a charging station slot and demounts the discharged battery. Then using a small onboard backup power cell, the truck moves to a slot where a fully charged battery awaits. After installing the fresh battery itself, the truck returns to its assigned duties. The whole process takes just two minutes and needs no manual intervention.
The LGVs (equipped to transport two pallets at a time) perform all fork truck work that involves full pallets. More specifically, they facilitate improved warehouse productivity by performing the following tasks:
- Replenishment of gravity racks and floor storage (collecting full pallets straight off the production line)
- Picking of full pallets
- Replenishment of empty pallets to the production plant
- Replenishment of packaging material to the production plant
- Batch consolidation and pallet re-ranking
The Benefits for Carlsberg
In addition to improved warehouse productivity, the Swedish storage and production facility has seen improved safety and a reduction in pallet and material damages since the LGV system was implemented. Labour costs are also reduced as no fork truck drivers are required at the site.
This is a great example of how productivity improvements can be made through automation in an existing warehouse, without extensive structural changes or construction of new facilities.
As technology continues to advance in logistics, automated assets will become ever more pervasive. Perhaps they will eventually fall within reach of companies with smaller capital expenditure budgets than those enjoyed by supply chain giants such as Carlsberg. Now If that isn’t something to raise your glass to, I don’t know what is … Cheers everyone!